For the fifth consecutive year, about 44,000 acres of state wildlife land east of Ellensburg will be closed to motor vehicles Feb. 1 through April 30 to protect wintering elk from disturbance, and in turn reduce elk damage to adjacent private lands.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will temporarily close the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area and a portion of the Quilomene Wildlife Area in Kittitas County. The area to be closed is north of the Vantage Highway, south of Quilomene Ridge Road, east of the Wild Horse Wind Farm and west of the Columbia River.
Reducing vehicle traffic on the wildlife area may encourage wintering elk to remain on the public land rather than straying to nearby private lands, according to wildlife biologists. The effectiveness of the seasonal road closure is being evaluated by monitoring the movements of elk equipped with tracking collars.
About 2,000 elk—nearly half the Colockum elk herd—winter on the Whiskey Dick and Quilomene areas, according to WDFW Southcentral Regional Wildlife Manager Ted Clausing. Forty-three of the elk are fitted with global positioning system (GPS) devices to track their movements. Biologists use the data to assess the animals’ response to the closure.
“Continuing to track elk this winter will help us judge the effectiveness of the closure,” said Clausing. “Based on data we’ve previously collected, we would recommend permanent seasonal vehicle closure. However, we’ll evaluate this year’s additional data to make a recommendation on permanent seasonal closure by next year.”
This is the fifth year of seasonal closures on the Ellensburg-area wildlife lands. The three-month seasonal closure is consistent with winter-range closures elsewhere in the state, including the Oak Creek, Wenas and L.T. Murray wildlife areas. Seasonal closures also occur on critical big-game winter ranges in several other western states, including Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming.
Research from across the western United States indicates vehicle traffic can disturb elk and significantly reduce their use of habitat near roads, according to Scott McCorquodale, a WDFW elk researcher.
“The zone influenced by roads can be quite large in open areas such as the Colockum elk winter range,” said McCorquodale.